Chapter 11 : Litmus
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Something had obviously happened between Jane and Sirius. On the train departing for the holidays, I only saw her fleetingly; it was the same case on the train back to Hogwarts after the holidays. Therefore, it was no surprise that Sirius cornered me during Muggle Studies the first week back.
"Pepper, can I ask your opinion on something… Jane related?"
"If you must," I crossed my arms. This was not going to be pleasant.
"You're her best friend, mate," he explained apologetically.
"Just get on with it," I tried to sound friendlier about the subject.
"Right, well I asked her to be my girlfriend and she… well, she fainted. And now she's avoiding me, as I'm sure you've noticed."
"Yeah, we've all noticed, mate," James thumped Sirius on the back. He sighed and looked at the ceiling, trying to resist the urge to throw a punch, I was sure.
"She actually fainted?" I tried to conceal my grin, but it was difficult.
"Yeah--" he coughed, "--anyway, what do you think she'll say? If she ever says anything," he added as an afterthought, a worried expression crossing his face, "she won't just avoid me forever, will she?"
"She could," I shrugged.
"R-really?" he gulped.
"Well, how did you ask her?" as much as I really didn't want to know the details, it was essential to determining the reaction.
"I just kind of asked her, right after you left us on the stairway," he shrugged, "is that bad?"
"Probably the worst," I said truthfully, "you can't just spring stuff on her like that. She's like a scared little kitten, Sirius. Startle her and you don't see her for a day or two… or in Jane's case a week or two."
"Way to go, Padfoot," James leaned back, balancing his chair on two legs to comment, "what happened to all your charm?"
"I'm still charming," he kicked the leg of James' chair so he went crashing to the floor.
"Ten points from Gryffindor, Potter. Get back in your seat," Professor Quirrell continued teaching as if there'd been no interruption. We quieted thereafter, sure Quirrell would be paying closer attention to us now that we'd caused a disturbance.
"Well, do you think you could help me, anyway? Do you think you could get her to give me an answer. Maybe push her towards a yes?" he asked me hopefully when the bell rang.
I sighed and stood up to face him. "I'll try to get her to give you an answer, but I'm not going to push her one way or the other." Especially not the way that leads her to contact with you, which never fails to make me lose my best friend to invisibility for weeks at a time, I thought bitterly.
"That is great," he said at once, "more than I could ask for. I owe you one."
Yes, yes you do.
I didn't get the opportunity to speak with Jane about it until Friday, or at least that's what I told Black. In truth, I had absolutely no desire to talk to Jane about her love life, and even less desire for her to go steady with him. He was a great friend, but his history gave me no faith in his ability to maintain a relationship, and Jane definitely deserved somebody who wouldn't use her for two weeks and then ditch her, like Sirius was known to do.
I'd found her in the common room, curled up by the window in a thick blanket reading an old library book, Theories of Transubstantial Transfiguration for some unknown reason. Even though I'd told Sirius I'd be discreet, I figured the best way to get this over with was to be up front with her. When I sat down, she looked up at me.
"Sirius Black talked to me in Muggle Studies and wanted me to talk you into giving him an answer to the question he asked you after the Ball," I said quickly.
Her mouth opened as fear, then shock spread across her face.
"All I'm going to say is please be careful. He makes a good friend, but dating him could be more catastrophic than the time you accidentally lit Professor Flitwick on fire--"
"Tavi!" she squeaked.
"Sorry, that's the last time I'll bring it up ever. You know his reputation. Think on it."
She nodded, her face slightly flushed.
"Good, then I'm off," I got up, "enjoy Transubstantial Transfiguration," I added sardonically.
A small smile curled up the corners of her mouth as she turned back to her book. I didn't pass anybody on my way to the library's fourth floor entrance and headed to the table Jane usually occupied. It was empty, per usual--nobody ever bothered venturing to the far back corner due to the frequency of Jane's habitation there. I sat down and spread my star chart across the table. I had barely gotten started when I was interrupted.
"Do you think you'd want to work on that Charms homework instead?" Lynn began pulling things out of her bag. She was smiling big enough to reveal her dimples and her blue eyes twinkled.
"Ha, sure," I rolled my star chart back up and instead pulled out the essay I'd already begun for Charms.
"You're so much easier to do homework with than Jane," she tugged my half finished essay out of my hand and began reading.
"Why?" I grinned at the compliment.
"You let me cheat," she smiled mischievously and began writing, her blond hair falling forward, "and you're around a lot more than Jane these days."
"Yeah," I frowned.
"What's going on with that anyway?" she asked me.
"I'm not really sure I'm supposed to tell anyone," I took my essay back from her and flipped to the right chapter in my Charms book.
"Come on, you know I won't say anything!" she protested.
"Fine," I sighed, knowing she would pester me for hours if I didn't surrender now, "Sirius asked her to be his girlfriend. Freaked her out, the git. She still hasn't given him an answer."
"Really?" her face lit up, "that's so cute!"
"Is it?" I arched an eyebrow at her.
"Of course it is! Sirius hasn't ever asked anyone to be his girlfriend before."
"I'm not joking," she said defensively, "he must be really interested in her. Haven't you noticed he hasn't dated anyone at all our entire sixth year so far?"
"Yeah, because he's already been through all the girls in the school," I muttered.
"Excuse you!" she flared up, "Keep in mind Sirius is one of my best friends, and I guarantee you half of the things you think you know about him are downright lies!"
"Really? So he didn't date Audrey Veer and Melanie Pritcher at the same time?"
"Okay, well that was a misunderstanding," she said a bit flustered, "but he never did anything with Gloria Fletcher, Patricia Harper, or Fran Ogden," she shuddered as she said the last name.
"I always wondered about that," I couldn't help losing some of my temper and smiling at this news about Fran Ogden. She was a horribly obnoxious Hufflepuff girl whose gum chomping never failed to make me want to magically choke her to death with the visible wad always in her cheek.
"But I think he really likes her. Jane, I mean. Does she fancy him?"
"Dunno," I shrugged, "she doesn't really talk about those things, you know?"
"I know, it's very strange," Lynn smiled, "but I think she does like him. She told Lily and I she turned down Alexander Derring because she didn't like him that way. Sirius must've asked her last minute, and she obviously said yes."
"You'll have to get all the juicy details from the source. Good luck, comrade," I reached out to shake her hand.
"Thanks, I'll need it," her hand was soft in mine. Even though I'd asked Lynn to the Christmas Ball, I was nervous to ask her to anything else. Apparently I didn't have as much nerve as Sirius Black.
"Oh how I wish this essay would do itself," she frowned at the two sentences she'd written so far.
"Yeah, I guess we should probably get to work," I sighed.
Luckily, working lasted only twenty minutes before we ditched the library for somewhere more comfortable and more conducive to talking as loudly as we liked.
"I know this great room," I told her, leading the way to the seventh floor, "Jane told me about it."
When I reached the stretch of wall Jane had shown me back in fifth year, I paced back and forth three times thinking about the comfortable sitting room I'd like to go into right now. I grinned at the stunned look on Lynn's face when a door materialized on the stretch of wall.
"After you," I bowed her towards the door, but she didn't seem to be able to open it.
"Is it locked?" I was confused.
"Apparently," she tugged once more. I couldn't resist trying to open it myself, just for good measure. I even pulled out my wand, but it soon became apparent we were not getting in that room.
"Huh, maybe somebody is already in there," I shrugged.
"Aw well… just want to go to one of our common rooms?" she suggested.
"I guess so," I frowned at the now blank stretch of wall, "let's just go to yours, it's closer."
Our first apparition lesson was the next morning after breakfast, and Jane was nowhere to be seen. The frail wizard teaching us had begun the lesson and I still hadn't spotted her. I was startled when I realized we were supposed to be trying to apparate already.
I looked at my hoop for a moment before closing my eyes and turning on the spot. I opened my eyes and was in pretty much the exact same space.
"Damn," I snapped my fingers.
"This seems harder than it ought to be," James frowned, "can't I just fly my broom everywhere?"
"Sure, if you want to be an easy target," Sirius grinned.
"Like you would be on a motorcycle?" Remus quipped.
"Nah, I'd only ride the bike for leisure," Sirius threw his hair back and mimicked revving, and I saw Jane over his shoulder. We were supposed to be attempting for a second time, but the guys were too busy talking. Jane, on the other hand, disappeared, then reappeared in her hoop. McGonagall was passing and spoke, startling Jane so she almost fell over.
I snorted with laughter.
"What? It's not that unlikely," James frowned at me.
"Huh? No, I was laughing at… nevermind, go on," I went back to attempting apparition.
We went at it for fifteen minutes and still hadn't managed when there was a commotion across the hall. I looked over and saw the instructor leading a beat red Jane to the front of the room, apparently intent upon everyone bearing witness to her skill. Oh no… I thought. Nothing good had ever come of Jane being forced to demonstrate her skill in front of a room full of peers.
"Ugh, what are they going to have her show off, now?" Fifi LaFolle, always close to wherever Sirius was whispered to Veronica Smethly.
"Everyone, eyes up front!" McGonagall was announcing.
As the students quieted down, I felt a knot forming in my stomach, ten times worse than what Jane was likely feeling. I always acted amused after the fact, but I hated how often things went this way for her. She was brilliant enough to attract the attention of all the teachers, but too painfully shy to reveal that brilliance to anyone else.
"Tarantallegra!" Sirius' spell came out of nowhere, and my legs instantly started flying in every direction in a frenzied dance.
"What the…" I had the piece of mind to fire a jelly-legs jinx at Sirius, who toppled over James stood wide-eyed, wand in hand, but unsure whose side to take.
I deflected another spell and shot my own, which he deflected, and then began the dance… Sirius kept coming on, and all I could manage to do was shield in defense. As soon as the teachers reached us, Sirius dropped his wand, and the furnunculus jinx I cast hit him square in the face.
"Detention, Mister Black, and fifteen points from Gryffindor for causing such a ruckus in the middle of a lesson!" Professor McGonagall fumed.
"Sorry, Professor," Sirius hung his head and had the decency to look ashamed of himself.
"Five points from Ravenclaw, Pepper," Flitwick, meanwhile, barked at me as he finally released me from the crazed dancing.
I accepted the loss of points and glared daggers at Black while McGonagall led him from the hall.
The rest of us stayed behind to finish the lesson, but I was too angry to concentrate.
"What was that all about?" James asked me out of the corner of his mouth.
"You tell me," I responded darkly. All this, after I'd told the guy I'd talk to Jane.
When the lesson was over, I stormed out ahead of the crowd and saw Sirius leaning against a pillar. He stood up straight when he saw me.
"What the bloody hell was that all about?" I demanded.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" he held his empty hands up, "It was the only thing I could think of short notice. You saw what that little ministry guy was about to subject Jane to… I had to do something, and it wouldn't have been believable if I'd attacked James or Remus."
Comprehension dawned on me. "Well frakking hell, Sirius, can't you warn me next time? Or attack Pete next time or something," I complained as the rest of the group came up to us.
"Sorry," he said again.
"What was that, Padfoot?" James asked Sirius. I noted the use of the strange nicknames they'd assigned to each other. I hadn't ever chanced asking what they meant.
"Some brilliant thinking," I admitted. Sirius' reasonable explanation coupled with the smattering of pimples still across his perfect face provided reason enough to forgive. "So, she gave you an answer?"
The goofy grin that spread across his face was answer enough.
"Who gave an answer to what?" Pettigrew squeaked, lost, per usual.
"I think our Padfoot here has a new girlfriend," James grinned.
"What? Who?!" Peter demanded.
Remus rolled his eyes, but otherwise remained impassive about the whole situation as he turned towards the marble staircase.
"My god, Wormtail, how did you pass fifth year?" James quipped, following Remus' lead.
"Thanks, mate," Sirius confided as we started up the steps, "for everything."
"No worries," I shrugged. If Sirius was willing to purposely draw McGonagall's wrath down upon him for Jane's sake, I guess I had to give him a chance. "So, how bad is it?" I asked, gesturing to his pimply face.
"Week of detention," he grinned, "worth it."
A/N: Bit of a switcheroo on the last part of this chapter done during the last round of edits. :)
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